"Irish Architecture Now" Looks for the Roots of Irish Identity

"Irish Architecture Now" Looks for the Roots of Irish Identity

(09/26/11) Raymund Ryan, Curator of Irish Architecture Now (courtesy Irish Architecture Foundation blog)
Grand Egyptian Museum by heneghan peng architects(Courtesy heneghan peng architects)

Ireland is known for lots of things, but contemporary architecture isn’t necessarily one of them. Irish Architecture Now, the first-ever showcase of Irish architecture to tour the U.S., aims to change that. Curated by Raymund Ryan, co-curator of the Heinz Architectural Center at the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh, the Irish Architecture Now program features six of Ireland’s leading architecture practices and will travel to architectural schools and institutions to highlight top contemporary Irish architecture, which the organizers state, has “over the past two decades firmly established itself with flair on the European scene.”

(09/26/11) Raymund Ryan, Curator of Irish Architecture Now, introducing the speakers at Cooper Union, NYC (Courtesy Irish Architecture Foundation blog)

The tour’s first stop was on September 26 at New York’s Cooper Union, hosted by the Architectural League of New York. The Rose Auditorium was filled with spirited crowds gathered to hear presentations from Niall McCullough (McCullough Mulvin Architects), Merritt Bucholz  and Karen McEvoy (Bucholz McEvoy Architects), and Shih-Fu Peng (heneghan peng architects, which relocated from NYC to Dublin in 2001). The panel discussed their work within the context of “Irishness” and its place in the world. Moderator Kazys Varnelis, director of the Network Architecture Lab of Columbia’s GSAPP, kicked off the panel discussion with a pertinent question: In the culturally blurred and aggressively-networked world we live today, when the idea of isolation is increasingly less possible or relevant, is it still possible to talk about an Irish architecture?

Identity-related questions are tough as the answers often prove complex. While it is easy to simply conclude that the current style of architecture hardly allows recognizable expressions of specificities or local memories, the struggle lies one step back: How do we evaluate whether something translates into architecture when we don’t fully understand what that something is?

Niall McCullough's church-turned-into-library. (Courtesy McCulloughMulvin Architects)

While each of the projects presented was visually stunning and aptly contextualized with respect to unique site conditions (mostly in Ireland), the ensuing discussion was hesitant to yield definitive answers. It did, however, raise an engaging debate over issues of place and identity. The panel raised broader questions—does identity have to be some sort of an essence with authenticity, or can it be a mere construct that we can reverse-engineer?

Exemplifying this question is Niall McCullough’s church-turned-library. Modern interventions were carefully inserted into the preserved interior—a sleek, folding walnut plane runs across the floor and up against the walls of the Gothic structure while the exterior remains untouched. McCullough sought to change how the building is perceived within, evoking a sense of nervousness within the indifferent orthogonality of the original plan, dually representing the dichotomy of Irish identity.

The first half of tour has concluded after the last lecture at the Carnegie Museum, but the second leg will travel to LA, Berkeley, and Chicago in early November. The program is a part of Imagine Ireland, a year-long celebration of Irish arts in America in 2011, produced by the Irish Architecture Foundation, Dublin and funded by Culture Ireland.

For more information on Irish Architecture Now, click here.

Trinity Long Room Hub, McCullough Mulvin Architects (Courtesy Christian Richters)
Limerick County Council Headquarters by Bucholz McEvoy Architects(Courtesy Michael Moran)
Limerick County Council Headquarters by Bucholz McEvoy Architects(Courtesy Michael Moran)
Limerick County Council Headquarters by Bucholz McEvoy Architects (Courtesy Bucholz McEvoy Architects)
Grand Egyptian Museum, Translucent Stone Wall at night, heneghan peng architects. (Courtesy Irish Architecture Now)
Timberyard, O'Donnell + Tuomey Architects (Courtsey Dennis Gilbert/VIEW)